Weight loss betting apps pit wallet vs. waistline – but do they work?

by | Mar 25, 2019

We all know that money can be a hefty motivator. Think about your job — you may not crunch in those hours, grind to meet deadlines, or put up with the coworker who never refills the printer if there wasn’t something in it for you, right? Weight loss betting apps take a similar approach and use a monetary “carrot” if you will to motivate you in taking action towards losing weight. You may be tempted to put your money where your belt loops are but do these programs actually work?

How weight loss betting apps work

There are several different methods to these programs when it comes betting your money. Some use a lottery-type system, others pit you against your goals saying if you meet your goals weight you will win back your money and then some (think traditional gambling), another may have you designate a place for your money to go if you don’t hit your target (think an organization or charity you may want to avoid supporting). The main idea here is to take someone who (maybe) hasn’t been able to stick with their goals in the past and give them an outward, financial incentive to do so now.

One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) back in 2008 used two different approaches to test the effectiveness of financial incentive in weight loss: a lottery approach and a deposit approach where monthly money was contributed by the participante and matched by the researchers. Basically if you reached your goal, you either had a 1 in 5 chance to win  prize or you doubled your money. They found that those in the incentivized groups (particularly the deposit group who lost an average of 14 pounds in 16 weeks), lost significantly more weight than those not assigned to these groups. You’re probably thinking “Cool! I lose weight and and my bank account gains dolla’ dolla’ bills!” So what’s the catch?

Betting apps: Lots of motivation…in the short term

Weight loss (if done safely) can take awhile. It’s a journey, a process, an adventure that takes motivation. Motivation over time naturally comes and goes but betting programs take advantage of fairly short term motivation to get you going. This type of motivation, where some kind of reward is attached to the end result is called extrinsic motivation. Over time the idea (and hope) is that this turns into intrinsic motivation or deeper motivation within yourself rather than being fueled by a prize. Research suggests that these extrinsic motivators — ahem money — may be less fulfilling compared to their intrinsic counterparts. This is particularly interesting when thinking about long-term behavior change and weight loss.

Interestingly enough, the 2008 JAMA study did a 3-month follow up which showed once the monetary incentive was gone, participants gained back the weight they had lost. This goes to show how powerful these incentives can be, but that the behaviors may not be sustained past the initial program.

The missing piece of weight loss betting apps

So what’s missing exactly? You exercise, eat healthy, lose weight, and win some cash….so why does the weight seem to come back after the dollars stop rolling in? While some of these programs may have peer support groups and a place to get your questions answered, may sign up and then not know where to go from there. Not only that you may be changing your actions around food and activity without changing your thoughts or the underlying WHY’s behind the habits you’ve had for you years. Health coaching can play a pivotal role in behavior change, especially when it comes to pulling from motivation, whether that be extrinsic rewards or intrinsic factors. The supportive relationship that can be built between a health coach and someone looking to change their weight to change their life goes beyond dollars.

The interaction with a health coach can provide encouragement, accountability, and motivational support during tough times to help keep the changes going and make them last — another way to put this is to help you keep the weight that you lose off. A coach like this can also help you troubleshoot when you hit the dreaded plateau and notice other things that may be impacting your journey to having to cinch your belt a little tighter each week. Basically this takes a lifestyle approach instead of a diet approach…because diets are temporary and a lifestyle can be for well, a lifetime.

Weight Loss Betting Apps: The Bottom Line

In the end, sometimes we need a little extra to help us start working towards our weight loss goals. Whether that is a new pair of jeans or some hard, cold cash. With only about 30-40% actually succeeding to meet their goals and win back their money in one such program, the numbers may bode better for the company than those who are actually participating. However, this type of outward motivation, while effective in the beginning, can be fleeting and sometimes not quite as fulfilling in the end. Programs that pit your wallet against your waistline may have their appeals for some in the short term but when it comes to long term success they may fall short. Intrinsic motivation and having someone there to help you along this process to realize your health potential and actually help you keep the weight off is worth way more than anything you could ever hope to win in betting with the scale.